Investigating sources: What happened to Private John McQuat?

Our knowledge and understanding of history depends on our sources.

Different types of sources can tell us different things. Some are more informative and reliable than others.

Here are three sources about the death of Private John McQuat in Vietnam. 

source 1source 2source 3

Look at them, and ask of each:

  • What does it tell us?

  • Would the person creating it know?

  • Why was this source created?

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of each source as evidence?

Then decide what happened to Private McQuat, what is your main evidence for that conclusion, and how certain you are that you know the truth.

Source 1
Bronze plaque on the headstone 
at Albany (WA) cemetery

5716533 Private
J L McQuat
8 Battalion
Royal Australian Regiment
30th April 1970 Age 21
Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord and
let perpetual light shine upon him

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Source 2
Newspaper extract

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4 Diggers die in two days

CANBERRA. Four Australian soldiers have died in Vietnam in the past two days - two killed accidentally and two by enemy action.

One soldier was shot dead and another, who was injured died later, in hospital after an accidental shooting during a sentry changeover north of Nui Dat yesterday.

They were Private P. Earle, of Glenelg, South Australia, and Lance-Corporal P. R. Goody, of Monto, Queensland, both of the 8th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, which is on operations about five miles north of Nui Dat.

Private Earle died during the shooting, and Lance- Corporal Goody, who was wounded, was evacuated by helicopter to the First Australian Field Hospital at Vung Tau. He died from wounds later.

An investigation into the accident has begun.

Private H.J. Stanczyk, of Royal Park, SA, a member of the 7th Battalion was killed and four other soldiers wounded by Viet Cong rocket-propelled grenades in Phuoc Tuy Province on Thursday.

The incident occurred when patrolling infantry men of the 7th Battalion and gunners of the 4th Field Regiment made contact with the Viet Cong.

The other Australian killed, in a separate incident was Private J.L. McQuat, of Rocky Gully, Western Australia.

Private McQuat, of the 8th Battalion was killed during operations against the Viet Cong in Phuoc Tuy Province on Thursday.

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Source 3
An extract from an interview

"Mid way through our tour Private John McQuat was killed in action. The morale of the soldiers was greatly affected. John was a quiet, popular member of the platoon. He was killed during a contact in the middle of the night. He was shot five times through the lower stomach. The contact was initiated with rifle fire by a recent reinforcement to the platoon. Our platoon never used these tactics. It was very dark, raining and storming. We lost John because another soldier fired at night-time from one pit to another and broke all the rules. It got to a number of the men because of what a reckless, careless person had done, and one who had only been part of the platoon for a couple of weeks. I was not on operations at the time and flew out to cast doubt in their minds that it may have been an enemy round - but they all knew. It just didn't wash. We could have done without that."

(Peter Lauder, M.C., Infantry Platoon Commander, 8 RAR, 1969-70 in Gary McKay, Vietnam Fragments Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1992, p.196)

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